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Senate Pushes for More Russian Sanctions in Bipartisan Legislation

Senate Pushes for More Russian Sanctions in Bipartisan Legislation

On Tuesday, one day before confirmation hearings for a key chunk of President-elect Donald Trump’s national security nominees, top lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said they would introduce new legislation to punish Russia for meddling in the election, as well as its aggressive behavior in Ukraine and Syria.

An aide to Sen. Ben Cardin (D.-Md.), one of the sponsors of the bill, said that after the public release last week of the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference in the U.S. election “he felt now was the time to introduce” the legislation.

The bill would impose “mandatory visa bans and asset freezes [on] those who undermine the cybersecurity of public or private infrastructure and democratic institutions” and sanction anyone who assists in such activities. It would also mandate more sanctions on Russia, including on investments of “$20 million or more in Russia’s ability to develop its petroleum and natural gas resources” and on “investments in the development of civil nuclear projects.” Perhaps most notably, it would codify Obama’s most recent executive order, thereby making recognition of Russia’s role in the past presidential election the literal law of the land. Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway said those sanctions were an attempt by Obama to “box in” her boss.

The bill comes just ahead of the the inauguration of a president-elect who insists that Russian hacking did not play a role in his election despite ample U.S. intelligence findings showing it did. And the legislation drops just ahead of hearings for Rex Tillerson, formerly the head of ExxonMobil but tapped by Trump to be secretary of state. Tillerson has been openly critical of Russian sanctions, and Exxon stands to benefit with billions of dollars if the sanctions imposed for Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea are removed.

Other sponsors of the bill include Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

On Meet the Press on Sunday, Graham offered advice for Trump. “You should let everybody know in America, Republicans and Democrats, that you’re going to make Russia pay a price for trying to interfere,” he said. “Even though it didn’t affect the outcome, they tried to interfere. And they need to pay a price. And I don’t care what their motives were.”

Graham, joined by Klobuchar and McCain, also recently took a trip to Ukraine and Georgia to show their continued support for the countries despite the incoming president’s repeated statements about improving relations with Russia. One section of the new bill is dedicated to “countering Russian aggression” in Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, and Crimea (which the United States recognizes as part of Ukraine, not Russia, but which is mentioned with separately in the legislation).

The bill also reiterates that the United States does not recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea or the independence of South Ossetia or Abkhazia (the renegade parts of Georgia propped up, and recognized as independent, by Russia), addressing concerns that Trump might do so in a grand bargain with Putin.

The bill would also authorize $100 million for an “Europe and Eurasia Democracy and Anti-Corruption Fund,” which would seek, among other things, to counter Russian disinformation both through media education and the establishment of independent, Russian-language media, and to strengthen other governments’ cybersecurity practices.

Whether such funds will be available for democracy promotion and anti-corruption in the United States remains to be seen.

Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images